Monday, September 6, 2010

Body Perception in Allison Joseph's poem "Skinny Legs"

Allison Joseph’s poetry reflects on and illuminates everyday struggles, struggles which may begin in childhood and which morph rather than disappear in adulthood. Her poem “Skinny Legs” exemplifies this unending frustration in its reflection on body perception, an obstacle of almost Goliath proportions for women of all ages.

She writes that as a child she loathed her skinny legs, and even “bought a book, mail order/ of exercises ‘specially designed / to sculpt unattractive legs / into comely ones…’” The image of the speaker as a child exercising to a plan intended for adults reveals the presence of body distortion as modeled by adults and then performed by children.

When the speaker reaches adulthood, it is no longer her skinny legs which taunt her but rather the fear of “…saddlebags, / cellulite, cautious that fat / might bloat my legs to trunks,” revealing the continuous cycle of dissatisfaction, exercise, dissatisfaction, and so forth. Joseph writes that “Distortions don’t lie, /but mutate, my legs and arms/ and body mine to mold / with the help from the latest / scientifically-designed plan.”

The desire to bend and break one’s body to fit an ideal is not new, but in Joseph’s poetry the reader realizes the plaguing doubts and fruitless efforts as part of a “distortion” rather than an accurate reflection of reality, thus leaving the reader to contemplate the carnival fun-house mirror in which she measures herself.

[Emily Phillips]

Related posts:
10 poems (online) by Allison Joseph
Allison Joseph and Creativity
Allison Joseph's Imitation of Life
Allison Joseph's Worldly Pleasures
Allison Joseph's Voice: Poems
Looking for Allison Joseph

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